When Brian Moore calls you “Great” – you surely are that.

Brian Moore: Quietly and phlegmatically, Phil Vickery joins the list of giants
The World-Cup winning prop made a huge contribution to England rugby throughout his career

By Brian Moore
Published: 7:05AM BST 28 Oct 2010

It’s over: Phil Vickery, one of the giants of England rugby, has been forced to retire Photo: REUTERS
What do you do when the man with whom you are about to lock in mortal combat, has an oriental tattoo which translated means ‘I’ll fight you to the death’ and when you know he is a qualified cattle inseminator? You feel nervous.
Ever since his earliest playing days with Redruth, Philip John Vickery, MBE, has been posing problems for opposition props. On my last visit to Redruth the club was quick to remind me of Vickery’s association and there was nothing but praise for his contribution and attitude while he was growing through their Colts team. That is what you get from people when you talk about Vickery – praise.

Was it obvious that he would one day reach the highest heights? Yes, if you ask the Redruth faithful. Vickery’s sheer power and size were different to the rest, as was his quiet determination and unwillingness to compromise when the tough stuff started.
After gaining England Under 16 and Colts caps, Vickery’s move to Gloucester was logical on both geographical and psychological levels. Gloucester rugby back then had an earthiness that brooked no pseuds, no posers and accepted only with reluctance, backs. Vickery was naturally attuned to the prosaic approach of Gloucester.
The names of former great Gloucester props are not the distant echoes to bygone age at Kingsholm. Cyril Harris, Alan Townsend, Tom Price, Mike Burton, Phil Blakeway and Malcolm Preedy are not West Country mythical figures, but giants who battled in the cherry and white jersey.
That Vickery’s name is now included in that list on merit and without a shred of sentiment is as fulsome a tribute as you can get from the notorious Shed supporters.
Within three years of playing for his first senior club, Vickery had progressed almost ineluctably to challenge for full international honours.
After his debut game Vickery must have wondered what all the fuss was about playing international rugby. In February 1998 he came on as a substitute for Leicester’s Darren Garforth and joined five of the forwards that were later to play in the 2003 World Cup-winning game. No doubt he smiled not just because of his achievement but also when he looked at the scoreboard which read: England 60 Wales 26.
If any false notions of comfort entered Vickery’s head, he was roundly disabused of these when later that summer he went on England’s post-season tour from hell. The ambitious fixture list would have tested the best of England squads and savage beatings came from Australia and New Zealand and losses to the, New Zealand Rugby Academy, New Zealand Maoris and South Africa.
After that tour many players sank without trace, but not Vickery. The following year he overcame a neck injury, the first of a number of significant injuries that interrupted his career, to play in the 1999 World Cup.
However, two years later and after overcoming a shoulder injury he achieved that most cherished of goals: a British Lions place. Not only that he took part in all three Tests in a dramatic series that was lost 2-1 to Australia.
That series was effectively lost in the two 10-minute spells either side of half time in the second Test, with a less than accidental injury to Richard Hill and the fact that they conceded tries either side of the whistle. What did emerge from the losing tour was the conviction among the English forwards that played in the Test matches that in the scrum Australia were there for the taking.
Two years later Vickery was a member of the England pack that dominated both Australia and New Zealand in an end-of-season tour that took place just before the 2003 World Cup.
The degree to which the English forwards bested their Anzac counterparts was no better illustrated than when reduced to only six men in the Wellington Test, the English scrum repelled repeated attempts by the All Black pack to score a push-over try.
Having won a Grand Slam and beaten their southern hemisphere rivals, England went into the 2003 World Cup with well-placed confidence; the rest is history. Vickery and Trevor Woodman, England’s two starting props, dominated their opposite
numbers throughout the tournament and their contribution, in terms of points won from penalties and ball spoiled from pressure, should not go unattested.
However, the pair fell foul of the South African referee Andre Watson in the World Cup final. Despite Australia fielding two second-choice props it was Vickery and his mate that were adjudged to have dived earthwards on five occasions, including one occasion in the last minute of normal time.
It is typical of Vickery that he publicly made no issue of what was, to everyone else at least, eccentric refereeing; he quietly took his winner’s medal and enjoyed the inner satisfaction of knowing he had done his job and was part of a team that was the best in the world.
The accolades did not stop there as Vickery went on to captain England in Argentina and the 2007 World Cup. Much has been written of the way in which England improbably reached another final against South Africa.
The stories of player revolt and power have been exaggerated but Vickery’s influence and his part in resurrecting a beaten team was seminal; without his understated but determined approach to prove us all wrong England would not have gone beyond the quarter-final.
It was disappointing that Vickery’s last Lions tour in South Africa saw him shot skywards in the first Test by Tendai ‘the Beast’ Mtawarira. The ignominy was then compounded by referee Bryce Lawrence
somehow penalising Vickery for standing up.
The reason for this was Lawrence’s tolerance of illegal scrummaging but, as with the many triumphs, Vickery took this phlegmatically.
The general public may not know much about Phil Vickery, but the rugby public and, more importantly, his team-mates do know just how much he contributed to English rugby..at15t_email { display: none ! important; }ul li.email span.at300bs { display: none ! important; }

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Brian Moore